Bicyclist recounts terrifying accident in New Paltz

Hannah George was recently struck by a car while riding a bike on North Putt Corners Road in New Paltz. She’s now working to improve bicycle safety in New Paltz. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Hannah George knows exactly when she was hit by a car: “Thursday, March 9 at 5:07 p.m.” It was back when New Paltz residents had the impression that spring had come early to the Hudson Valley, before the late-winter snowstorm walloped the region. She was making a left turn across North Putt Corners Road into her driveway, a maneuver she’d been executing for months.

George is a committed bicycle commuter: when she moved to New Paltz seven months ago, she insured her automobile for recreational use only, because she expected to drive to work only when the weather was particularly foul. She actually only lives about half a mile away from Twin Star Orchards, where she is the farm manager, but the ride is five times that distance. She cut her teeth on road rules for bicyclists in Ithaca, and didn’t anticipate any difficulty safely riding back and forth between home and work, even on roads like North Putt Corners, which have no shoulder and legally must be shared for all means of locomotion.


Six months after issues of bicyclist safety were cast into sharp relief when Gabriella O’Shea was severely injured bicycling home, George found herself in a situation that was chillingly similar. “My heart goes out to her and her family,” George said. Like O’Shea, she is a careful and conscientious cyclist; flashing lights and reflective tape are standard gear for her commutes. Unlike O’Shea, her physical injuries were minimal.

Hugging the white line that marks the edge of the travel lane is the best that a cyclist can do on some local roads, but that’s not where George was when she was struck. The weather being as balmy as it was, she was wearing nothing warmer than a t-shirt. Approaching her driveway, she looked carefully ahead and behind, taking control of the lane when she determined it was safe to do so, with her left arm straight out to signal a turn in that direction. While all but upon the double yellow line, she looked over her shoulder once again, and recalls thinking to herself, “That car is not supposed to be there.”

No one can say what was going through the driver’s mind in the moments leading up to the crash, but George observed, “I get the sense the driver didn’t understand what I was doing.” The vehicle’s right side mirror clipped her, which may have actually lessened her impact with the body of the car. She was thrown to the ground, but sustained only bruises. Another bit of good fortune was that the crash occurred just up the road from the New Paltz Rescue Squad headquarters. They and police responded quickly, and George is extremely grateful for the training and professionalism. While she escaped with minimal physical damage, the bicycle she bought for $125 would need about $100 of repairs to be made roadworthy again.

However lucky she may have been, George admits that her “first instinct” was to take to Facebook to express “outrage and anger” about the situation. “I did everything right,” she said. “I’m a very predictable bicyclist” who is well-versed in the rules of the road and the extra safety precautions one should take on a bicycle, such as the fluorescent safety vest she was wearing that day. “I take visibility very seriously,” she said, because “if you’re seen, you can avoid more injury,” which may help explain the comparatively minor injuries she herself received.

In time, the outrage has faded, and George is now seeking solutions and closure for her and others in her position, including the likes of Gaby O’Shea. Eventually, she hopes to reach out to the driver whose car struck her, and learn what that person was thinking. “It would be in a non-confrontational way,” she said. For now, she is adding her voice to the chorus of local residents clamoring for truly complete streets. Her first stop was a meeting of the New Paltz Town Board, and she has plans to sit down with bicycle-pedestrian committee members, as well. She is mulling other ways to get the message out, such as “share the road” bumper stickers to improve bicycle awareness.

A bicycle lane might have prevented O’Shea’s crash, but wouldn’t have helped George at all. Other than widening roads, she believes that better signage and road painting could be used to bring bicyclists to the forefront of drivers’ minds. She supports improving infrastructure, but thinks that education is another important piece of the puzzle. Drivers need to “know hand signals, and the rights of bicyclists” to be on the road at all. While it didn’t factor into this incident, George said that it’s clear some drivers consider bicyclists to be dangerous impediments, rather than fellow travelers with equal right to use the roads.

That’s not to say she won’t advocate for bicycle lanes, as well: North Putt Corners Road is too narrow to give a bicyclist the one meter of berth required without driving into the oncoming traffic lane, she pointed out. On the other hand, she rejects the notion that riding on those inadequate roads is “tempting fate,” and won’t stop doing what “should be my right.” Once she has a new bicycle — sooner, if a promised loaner comes through — she will again be taking to New Paltz roads on her way to bring Twin Star’s “ugly apples” to market.

There are 2 comments

  1. James Donohue

    In my 149,000 miles of Bicycling, I’ve learnt a few things. I know from experience that 99% of Drivers pass my Bicycle with seven to ten feet of clearance. Bike Lanes were built to handle the “other one percent”.
    I want to thank the 99% of drivers who pass properly. We all know about the “other one percent” .
    When I first looked at the picture accompanying this article, I did think the Bike Lane was a bit wide, but then I read further and it says the speed limit is 45. Or, if it was lowered to 40, there will still be some drivers going 5 over, or 45 anyway. Given the speed, and the need for cyclists to go around debris and other bicycle riders, the Bike Lane might be a bit narrow in places . (I looked at the Google street view; there are parts of the Bike Lane that are narrower than the stretch shown in the picture).
    Cycling as a Sport, and Bicycling as a form of Transportation are two completely different entities. Cycling is mainly taught as a Sport, by a Physical Trainer , a Gym Coach, or a Physiologist. Cycling requires many months of training rides, before any race. Speed is emphasized, and the number of gears the bike has is paramount. Timing of shifts is important, as is drafting in the aerodynamic wake of other cyclists, and any truck or van that may be passing by. Cyclists on training rides typically aim to ride about 60 miles in a day , in under two hours, without stopping. Any red lights or stop signs would make it difficult to do the 60 miles in under 2 hours. That is Racing. Enough about Racing-
    Touring Bicyclists carry camping gear and are going hundreds or thousands of miles. Coast to Coast typically. Some do the Southern Tier one year and the Northern, following the Canadian border a year and a half later. Touring is still a Sport, but it’s quite different than Racing.

    Transportation Bicycling – When I started Bicycling in 1972, there were No Helmets (There were Helmets, but they were only available in California…) With the lack of Helmets, I campaigned to get Helmets. We couldn’t get Helmets on the East Coast, so I suggested we should wear Football Helmets, at least. “Whatever your for, I’m against it.”, must’ve been their battle cry. People were actually against Helmets at first. Nowadays , everybody says “wear a helmet” …
    Tail Lights are important, but back before the LED Lights of today, a Tail Light would eat up batteries. Most people could only afford to have a headlight, because of the batteries going dead. You could Not rely on a Tail Light to stay lit, and if the batteries went dead, you wouldn’t know , because you couldn’t see it. At least with a Headlight, you can see when the Batteries die. Some Cyclists used a Generator for the Lights, instead of Batteries, But there were two drawbacks, 1) If you stopped, the Tail Light would go out, and you’d get hit from behind by a car, and 2) It wouldn’t work on “knobby” tires, you needed smooth-tread tires, which didn’t have any traction in mud.
    Rear View Mirrors are great, but we didn’t have any until 1994. In 1991, Cyclists started using Video Camcorders to watch their rear. Then someone must’ve asked why they don’t just use mirrors? Someone figured out that there was a market for Bicycle Rear-View Mirrors, because if they are willing to spend $1,000.00 on a camcorder , there would surely be people willing to spend $40.00 on a Mirror, and save $960.00. Do some math, you’ll figure out how people make money…

    Cell Phones are a great advantage for Cyclists, because it can be used to call the Police. Just dial 911 and report a drunk driver. Maybe the call will be ignored, but if 7 or 8 cyclists call 911, all reporting the SAME car, they will send some officers out looking…

    My best advice is Pace Yourself. If you pedal all-out fast like the racers, doing 60 miles in 2 hours, you rely on your speed to prevent getting hit from the rear. The main problem is that one percent of drivers who show no consideration for anyone else , ingrates… They don’t appreciate the Effort being put into keeping a Bicycle moving at 30mph. And the cyclist is leaning too far forward over the handlebars to see the rear-view mirror, if he has one.

    Get a convex Rear-View Mirror, and rely on the Mirror to keep yourself from getting hit from behind. Don’t rely on your own speed.

  2. Organic Acres

    Thank you for the lectures, bikers. I too am a biker, but I am also a driver. I will say that what you don’t understand, and you need to understand this because it is the reality. Even if ‘you’ are doing everything perfect — which I must say, the majority of bikers I witness will ‘say’ they are perfect, even if they aren’t — is that the majority of drivers don’t own bikes, don’t know the rules for biking,
    and there is virtually no one alive who can really judge the distance of 7-10 feet from a bike hugging the shoulder. Is that a great thing? Of course not! Is that the REALITY? Absolutely! Which puts more of the ownership of the whole situation on the biker!!! It just does.

    Sadly, Wrongly, Right-ly, Questionably – it is ultimately the bikers responsibility, if that means
    stopping off the side of the road before you make your left turn, then that’s what you have to do.
    My own experience, along 299, over Mohononk Mountain road, all across the region is that yes,
    most bikers appear to ride by the rules, but unfortunately many do not. And when a person is driving a 3,000 pound vehicle 35 or 45 miles per hour on our narrow, twisitng roads, even if a biker ‘thinks’ they are in the clear, it takes a fraction of one second for you to suddenly appear just around the bend, and if a car is coming in the opposite direction, you are at risk of being hit.

    It is much the conundrum of the cross-walks in town. I can’t tell you how many times DAILY a kid, wearing ear buds, looking down at their phone walks straight into oncoming traffic because
    ‘technically they have the right of way’ — BUT THE FACTS of the situation are much different. A pedestrian only has the right of way if they STOP. LOOK. THEN CROSS WHEN TRAFFIC PERMITS. We all witness the screeching brakes, the fender benders, and this is not because of the driver – it is because the person ‘thinking’ they are doing it right, actually is not allowing time to slow, maneuver or stop in time to avoid hitting them.

    It is real. It will save YOUR life, so you have to change your behavior somewhat to ensure your own safety.

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